Natural Hair: Growing Trend in the African American Community

By: Stephanie Satchell Email
By: Stephanie Satchell Email

February 22, 2013

It's a growing trend in the African American community. Many women are saying "no" to chemical straighteners, weaves, extensions, wigs and heat and instead switching back to wearing their natural hair.
CBS19’s Stephanie Satchell takes a look at the trend that some people are now calling a movement.

For decades, African American women have been going to great lengths spending hundreds of dollars and several hours at a time to achieve straight hair.

Now after documentaries like “Good Hair” and books like "Better Than Good Hair,” the times are changing.

Women are putting down their flat irons, taking off their wigs and trashing their chemical straighteners known as relaxers. They're going natural and embracing their curls.

“I feel free. I feel grown and free like a real woman. I feel good,” said Shalamar McKelvin, Big Chop Participant.

Dozens of women came out to Formula Salon in Richmond for something called the “big chop” party.
It was an event where women could have the chemical relaxer cut out of their hair.

With a “big chop” comes a new look. From a mini fro to the curly style called a "twist out," women are leaving the world of straight hair behind despite what others may have to say.

“It’s so many stereotypes that make it seem like in order to be beautiful you have to have long straight hair, but it's not that. You can be beautiful with any type of hair and it's all in your personality,” said Louise Pontonporo, Big Chop Participant.

Lorna Kelley has been wearing her natural hair for most of her life and organized the “big chop” event to encourage and support new naturals.

“So, I think there is still somewhat of a stigma, but I think if we hold true to who we are then they'll join us. Those who don't agree will eventually have to succumb to what is just the general popular habit,” said Lorna Kelley, Owner, Virginia Natural Beauty.

Although, this movement is boosting women's confidence, they say they have one main concern.
That's how they'll be perceived in the workplace.

“I've heard of women wearing wigs to interviews and then showing up the first day on the job with their natural hair. By then they're hired and the employer is just looking at them like they are shocked,” said Kelley.

However, some women say their new look isn't going anywhere and it's something an employer will just have to get used to.

“I'm going to be me. If that means my curls are tight and kinky or if they're long and wavy or whatever they are, that's what I am. You have to take it or leave it,” MeKelvin.

From a medical standpoint, dermatologist Dr. Thomas Cropley and medical student Kourtney Weathersby say being natural is much healthier for the hair.

That's because relaxers, heat and weaving can cause permanent damage.

“You're born with a certain number of hair follicles and they're supposed to last you for your entire life and if a hair follicle dies it can't come back,” said Dr. Thomas Cropley, Professor and Chair of Department of Dermatology, University of Virginia Medical Center.

Weathersby recently completed research in a hair clinic at Wake Forest University and says the most common damage is traction alopecia which is often caused from weaving.

“So you don't see hair or you see very short hair or very broken hair. You can also see the hair follicles exposed and you see follicular drop out which is when you have actual hair follicles missing because the scalp has been so damaged,” said Kourtney Weathersby, 4th Year Medical Student, University of Virginia Medical Center.

Chemical relaxers can also cause problems. Dr. Cropley says they can irritate the skin which may result in itching, redness, and a burning sensation in the scalp.

This is a processed that CBS19’s Stephanie Satchell has even questioned herself.

In 2010 she says she struggled with breakage while she had relaxed hair and eventually turned to weaves to achieve fuller and straighter locks.

But while she says she tried to make everyone else happy or comfortable with her appearance, she didn’t feel like herself.

Like the women at the big chop party, she made a choice to go natural. She stopped using chemicals, weaves and heat in her hair.

From now on you'll see Stephanie in her natural state and it’s one that’s becoming a trend across the African American community.


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